C.J. Spiller thoughtfully responded to questions about his training camp experience with the Chiefs and how he came about signing with the club.
The mood shifted considerably when Spiller, 30, was asked if he’d lost a step over the years.
After a pause, “No, but that’s for everybody else to decide,” Spiller said. “I know what I can still do. I know that I’m still the juice man.”
He has been in Chiefs training camp. The former Pro Bowl running back has flashed the speed that marked his healthy years in Buffalo, first primarily as a return specialist and then in the backfield.
Never miss a local story.
In 2012, that Pro Bowl season, Spiller rushed for 1,244 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged six yards per carry, second only to Adrian Peterson in the NFL.
Spiller followed that with another solid season statistically, rushing for 933 yards. In 2014, he suffered a broken collarbone and missed seven games.
That was his final year with the Bills. Spiller signed a four-year $18 million contract with the New Orleans Saints and was on the receiving end of Drew Brees’ 400th career touchdown pass, an 80-yard strike that beat the Cowboys in overtime.
But Spiller couldn’t make much headway on the depth chart and was released early in the 2016 season. He played a total of six games with the Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets last season and was in the market for a new team this year when he signed a one-year deal with the Chiefs in late February.
A few days later, the Chiefs released Jamaal Charles. Veterans Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West returned. In the draft, they picked up running back Kareem Hunt from Toledo in the third round.
Spiller joins that group and has been running with the third team with West missing time because of an ankle injury. On Saturday, Spiller turned in one of the top plays in camp when he turned a short pass from Patrick Mahomes into a 98-yard score, adding distance to his pursuers on the way to the end zone.
“In that situation, Mahomes gave me a great ball and I just tried to finish it for him, and that’s what I did,” Spiller said.
The depth chart doesn’t concern Spiller at the moment.
“There’s going to be competition wherever you go in the league,” Spiller said. “You can pay attention to the depth chart, but none of that stuff really matters because it’s a long season and you never know what can happen. The only thing you can control is the stuff you can control.”
This Chiefs are looking to bolster a running game that ranked 15th in yards and 13th in touchdowns last season. For the first time in this century, they enter a season without a running back who has made a Pro Bowl appearance in a Chiefs uniform. From Priest Holmes to Larry Johnson to Charles, the Chiefs went into every year with a premier running back.
This season presents an opportunity. Ware is a hard-nosed runner, West is a bit more elusive and Hunt seems to have caught on quickly. Then there’s Spiller, the most experienced of the bunch with the best season on his record. If the Chiefs keep three running backs, don’t be stunned if he’s one of them.